How to Dove Hunt
Updated: Jan 1
September finally arrived in Wisconsin and with it came the desire to get out and learn something new. After seeing a few pictures of bacon-wrapped dove skewers, I decided to learn how to dove hunt.
I had never hunted doves so I jumped online and gathered some quick information. Dove hunting is done primarily in row cut fields (with sunflower fields being popular). A hunter needs only a valid hunting license, shotgun, ammunition, and camouflage clothing to start hunting doves. Decoys and a dove stool make the hunt more effective but are not required.
When the evenings and mornings are finally headed toward that crisp fall feeling, we know all of our favorite fall adventures are right around the corner. Dove hunting was always something I had heard about but never tried. It was time to see what I was missing.
How to Start Hunting Doves
Anyone interested in hunting doves needs to have completed a hunter safety course and have their hunting license before they can take the field. They also have to complete the hip survey. Each states process may be slightly different, but most states offer easy to use online options for purchasing licenses and filling out surveys. Some states even offer mobile apps that function very well (such as GoWild).
What to Wear Dove Hunting
Mourning doves can see color and therefore you need to conceal your presence in the field to maximize your chances of successfully harvesting doves. Typically when you hunt doves you are sitting on a chair, stool, or bucket and tucked into tall grass or another form of cover. This gives you the option to either wear camo pants or simply cover them with the brush. Your shirt will probably be short or long-sleeved depending on your preference, but early season dove hunting means warm temperature days. It is also a great idea to have insect repellent included in your clothing and or applied separately via sprays or wipes. Bugs can be especially bad if hunting doves near water so you want to plan accordingly. Protecting your head from the sun and concealing your face will be important and can be accomplished by wearing a camo hat and face gaiter. You could also choose to apply face paint. Lastly, you will want to check your local regulations if blaze orange is required in your area for dove hunting.
What is a Good Gun for Dove Hunting
The beauty of dove hunting is that is as simple or complex as you choose. Most people will grab whatever general field shotgun they have and get out and harvest some birds. However if you are looking into buying a gun for the first time or specifically for dove hunting check out our article on purchasing a firearm. A popular style shotgun for wing shooting is an over-under shotgun. They offer easy loading and reloading, along with easy operation and cleaning. Over-under shotguns also allow you to put in two different choke tubes and shoot different patterns without having to reload or change tubes or guns.
What Choke Tube Should I Use for Dove Hunting?
The best choke tube for early season hunting is a skeet choke tube. The second best option would be an improved-cylinder choke tube. If you have an over-under shotgun then you can have both ready to go for first and follow up shots.
What Size Shot Do I Use for Dove Hunting?
#7.5 shot size or smaller is typical for dove hunting, although the size shot will only determine how much of the bird meat is left after a hit. You also need to check your state regulations to determine any legal limitations in shot size based on your pursuit.
Do I Need Steel Shot for Dove Hunting
No, you do not need steel shot for dove hunting unless your state regulations mandate you use it. However, some people prefer to shoot steel loads. Check your local regulations before hunting. If using a steel load shot, you will want to increase the size of the shot slightly compared to lead shot loads.
How Many Shotgun Shells Do I Need to Dove Hunt?
Dove hunting is fun but can be tricky for new wing shooters. They are fast and small compared to other wing shooting game and therefore will make you shoot through a box of shells rather quickly. The average shooter will go through 5 shots for every bird harvested so that means if your state has a 15 bird limit, you will need approximately 75 shells or 3 boxes of shells for your hunt.
What Gear Do I Need to Dove Hunt?
Before heading out to my local public lands, I headed over to Cabela’s for a quick gear grab. I was pleasantly surprised to see several YouTube videos highlighting successful hunts using only a single Mojo Dove decoy and someone sitting on a 5-gallon bucket. Talk about a budget-friendly hunt! The Mojo Dove decoy was on sale for $29.99 and I already had a hunting bucket swivel seat laying in the garage. I grabbed some steel load #7 shells and headed home.
Typical Mourning Dove Daily Routine
Fly from roost
Gravel and water for late morning
Loafing mid-late afternoon
Fly to roost
Based on their daily routine, it is usually a good starting strategy to hunt food sources in the morning and hunt water sources in the evening.
Where Should I Dove Hunt
Public land hunters will want to check online to see if their local DNR manages fields specifically for dove hunting. States such as Wisconsin and Ohio both feature specific dove hunting fields and have maps available online where these are located. You can also call your local DNR agent to find out more information. If you have access to private land, you will want to make sure you have permission prior to heading out on your hunt.
Doves will use fields to feed, and corn and sunflower fields are a great place to start.
Look for gravel roads or any other source of small gravel nearby these fields because the doves will use these small stones to aid their digestion after feeding in a field.
Power lines are another great place to start looking for mourning doves but check your local regulations about hunting near them.
Water sources are all essential to all animals and doves are no exception. Look for water sources with flat or gently sloping banks that make easy access for doves.
My First Dove Hunt
Mid-week I was able to secure childcare and head out into the early morning calm with a full day ahead of me to try and figure out dove hunting. I loved the idea of learning a new area of public land that I could also use for early season deer hunting. Since last fall, I have started treating every trip into the outdoors as both a hunting trip for the present and a simultaneous scouting trip for future hunts. This is a great way to increase your efficiency and time management when young parents, weekend warriors, and beginners are usually cramped for time and looking for anything to help shorten the hunting learning curve.
I got to the sunflower field that the DNR manages for dove and set up my decoy facing into the wind. As I learned the night before, doves like other birds take off into the wind. I flipped the battery-operated switch and the wings started spinning. I grabbed my shotgun and sat on my bucket tucked into the edge of the sunflower row about 10 yards away from the decoy. As the sun began to rise several runs of birds came flying across the field. There were many species and sizes of birds coming from all angles. I noticed the doves were flying in at an angle out of range at the opposite end of the field. After a beautiful sunrise and a pocket full of untouched shells, I decided after a few hours it was time to move.
Around 10:00 am I set up on the opposite end of the field, tucked into some tall grass and goldenrod looking back towards the decoy that I put at a “T” intersection of cut rows between the sunflowers. Not long after I was set up, I had my first dove fly toward the decoy. It was flying low (just above the sunflowers) and super-fast heading straight at me then darting away as I swung my gun to shoot. I managed to fire twice and missed both shots. Despite the misses, it felt good to know that everything up to the shot had clicked, and what I was doing put me in a position to pull the trigger. I did not get another in range bird that morning, but I left with the confidence to go back into that field and be ready for success.
The hunt was very relaxing, inexpensive, and did not require scent blocking agents. I saw birds and a few deer in the early morning fog feeding on the other side of a lake about 500 yards away. If you have never dove hunted I would strongly encourage you to try it. I had a great time figuring out the setup and enjoying the outdoors.